Visual Support Strategies for Individuals with ASD

Visual support strategies have been used to successfully support children, youth and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities for decades. Many are familiar with the use of visual schedules, but there are many ways in which visual support strategies can be used. These supports have been demonstrated to increase independent functioning, teach specific skills, improve environmental awareness, teach rules and social expectations, reduce problem behavior and so much more! There is a large body of research to support the use of these strategies with children, youth, and adults in home, school, community and employment settings.

Filmed at Picturing Success: Visual Support Strategies for Individuals with ASD – October 20-21, 2017

Brenda Fossett, PhD, BCBA-D, Capilano University

Dr. Brenda Fossett, BCBA-D, is an inspired teacher who is widely admired for her ability to convey complex concepts to those who work with children and adults with diverse needs, whether they are educational professionals or parent. Dr. Fossett has been on faculty in the Applied Behavior Analysis – Autism Department at Capilano University since 2013. Prior to that she was Assistant Professor (Special Education) in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Alberta. She is also a certified teacher of the deaf, as well as being a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Dr. Fossett has extensive clinical experience providing behavioral/educational consultative services to children with ASD, deafness, and other developmental disabilities in home, school, and community settings. Her scholarly and clinical interests include: applied behavior analysis, the implementation of positive behavior support in home and school settings, and educational interventions for deaf children with developmental disabilities. For more information on Dr. Fossett see


Introduction to Visual Support Strategies

Part 1: Overview of Visual Support Strategies

Part 2: What Does the Evidence Say?

  • Object cues
  • Difference between graphics symbols and PECS
  • Selecting appropriate representations

Symbol Assessment Preparation, Formats, and Planning

Part 1: Symbol Assessment

  • Preparing for a symbol assessment

Part 2: Symbol Assessment Formats

  • Receptive Language Format
  • Yes/No Format
  • Visual Matching Format
  • Conducting a symbol assessment

Part 3: Planning for the Future

  • Other considerations

Part 4: Where to Get Symbols, Photographs, and Materials

Visual Supports Guide

Part 1: Visual Supports to Provide Information

  • Environmental supports

Part 2: Visual Schedules


Part 3: Using an Object Cue Schedule

Part 4: Using Visual Schedules

  • Embedding behavior support in visual schedules
  • Time pieces in a visual schedule

Part 5: Using Visual Schedules (continued)

  • Tablet-based visual schedules
  • Teaching with a visual schedule
  • Considerations when using visual schedules

Part 6: Visual Schedule Routines – with examples

  • Within-activity visual schedules
  • Examples include: Showering, After-school Routine, Transition Routine: School to Homework, Snack Routine at School, Dressing at the Pool, Making a Sandwich, Using the Bus, and Morning Routine
  • Table-based within-activity schedules using Pictello

Part 7: Creating and Using Within-Activity Schedules

  • Temporal and waiting supports in a visual schedule
  • Using timers and track timers

Part 8: The Problem with Social Interactions and How Visual Supports Can Help

  • Social narratives: Social Stories, Power Cards, Tablet-based social narratives
  • Implementing social narratives

Part 9: Using Contingency Maps

Contingency maps are a visual support designed to provide information regarding the consequences for positive and problematic behavior.

Part 10: Rule Supports

Rule supports are a visual depiction of the rules. They can provide information regarding rules and assist with teaching individuals to follow rules.

Improving Communication with AAC

Part 1: Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC)

  • Supporting expressive communication with AAC

Part 2: Expressive Communication using Choice Making

  • Visual support strategies for choice making
  • Using choice boards

Part 3: Improving Expressive Communications: Communication Boards & Books

Part 4: Improving Communication Using the Picture Exchange Communications System (PECS)

  • Overview of PECS
  • When PECS is appropriate
  • Six phases of PECS instruction

Part 5: PECS in Daily Activities

  • Examples of implementation
    • At a restaurant
    • During cooking
  • Exchange-based communication support

Improving Conversation Skills

Part 1: Visual Support Strategies to Improve Conversation

  • Conversation supports
    • Visual bridges
    • Conversation books
  • Examples of visual bridges

Part 2: Improving Conversation Skills with Conversation Books

  • Creating conversation books
  • Teaching conversation book use
  • Tablet-based conversation books
  • Developing communication skills

Improving Skill Acquisition

Part 1: Improving Skill Acquisition with Video Modelling

  • Definition: Video of a model demonstrating desired behavior
  • Different types of video modelling
    • Video modeling
    • Video self-modeling
    • Point-of-view video modeling
    • Video prompting
  • What can we teach with video modelling?

Part 2: Implementing Video Modelling

  • Planning a video model
  • Making the video
  • Showing the video
  • Apps for video modelling

Improving Literacy Skills

Part 1: Academic Activities & Literacy

  • Access to academic activities
  • Instruction guides
  • Examples of lesson topics
    • The periodic table
    • Transportation in Canada
  • Story guides: Examples with Tale of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Owls in the Family, Chocolate Fever, and Charlotte’s Web

Part 2: Adapted Stories for Read-Alouds

Add visual supports and adapted text to storybooks to improve access during read-alouds.

  • Adapted story example: Caillou: Merry Christmas!
  • Adapting story books and novels
  • Question and answer activities
  • Brainstorming for poem writing
  • Lesson on healthy eating
  • Graphic organizers
  • Sort & classify
  • Compare & contrast

Part 3: Graphic Organizers for Sequencing & Describing

  • Examples of sequencing: Romeo & Juliet, The Little Red Hen, The Rainbow Fish, Turtle Hatching, The Mitten
  • Examples of describing: The Rainbow Fish, Jack and the Beanstalk, Charlotte’s Web

Part 4: Visual Supports for Literacy Development

  • Skills for literacy development
  • Teaching comprehension of text
    • Drawing to show comprehension
  • Visual supports for writing

Considerations and Planning for Visual Supports

  • Considering your purpose
    • Determine the necessary representation and type of visual support needed
    • Determine what type of visual support is most appropriate
  • Creating your visual supports
  • Advice for implementing & using visual support strategies in practice

Resources recommended by Dr. Fossett

  • Indiana Resource Center for Autism

  •  The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, Vanderbilt University

  • VCU Autism Center for Excellence

    Virginia Commonwealth University Autism Center for Excellence provides a number of online resources, including 45-minute webcasts, 30-minute seminars, and 5 minute ‘how to’ videos demonstrating a number of evidence-based interventions, including the use of visual supports. This website also provides guides and factsheets related to evidence-based interventions.

  • Design to Learn

    Provides information and resources focused on early communication development, including the use of tangible symbols, with an emphasis on individuals with complex communication needs/dual-sensory impairments/etc.

  • In the references/resources section of the handouts, there are links to two providers of online modules (Autism Internet Modules and AFIRM). There are also links for Mayer-Johnson (Boardmaker) and SymbolStix, as sources for symbols. The best place to buy Boardmaker in Canada is Bridges (prices in Canadian dollars and shipping from Canada).